Arthritis and Your Weight: 4 Points to Keep in Mind

Apr 30, 2021

Obesity affects 36 percent of the U.S. population, or one out of every three adults. The wide range of diseases and disorders commonly associated with excess weight includes various types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and the agonizing toe pain known as gout.

If you struggle with chronic joint pain and stiffness, your symptoms may improve once you shed those unwanted pounds (assuming that you follow your primary care doctor’s advice for safe weight loss strategies). Consider the following four important points about the relationships between your weight and your arthritis issues.


1. Less Weight Means Less Joint Stress

Millions of people suffer from a degenerative joint problem called osteoarthritis. In this condition, the cartilage that normally allows bone ends to slip against each other easily and comfortably wears out and breaks up, creating painful friction in the joint. The more stress the affected joints sustain, the more damage they may experience.

Excess weight only makes OA worse, especially in the weight-bearing joints of the spine, hips, knees, and ankles. Obese individuals have four to five times the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis as the general population. If you carry too much weight, losing just 10 percent of your body weight could cut your joint pain in half.


2. Weight Loss Can Reduce Inflammation and Swelling

Extra fat can mean extra inflammation and swelling. Fat cells produce inflammatory substances that can leave you with a low-grade, whole-body inflammation problem. This widespread inflammation can aggravate rheumatoid arthritis as well as other autoimmune conditions such as psoriatic arthritis and lupus.

When you get rid of excess weight, you may also minimize the inflammation and swelling that impair your mobility and comfort. A sensible weight loss plan that helps you shed fat also helps you reduce systemic inflammation in all parts of your body, including arthritic joints.


3. A Healthy Weight Can Reduce Risks for Co-Occurring Diseases

One health problem can promote other, related health problems, producing a set of issues collectively known as a syndrome. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and osteoarthritis all seem to factor into a problem called metabolic syndrome. All of these conditions enhance each other’s inflammatory effects.

When you take charge of your weight by adopting a medically supervised diet and exercise plan, you can bring these various conditions under better control. An anti-inflammatory diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and fiber over trans fats, sugars, and highly processed foods can help to eliminate both excess weight and inflammation.


4. Insufficient Weight May Make Arthritis Worse

While losing unhealthy extra pounds can ease many people’s arthritis symptoms, too little weight can prove problematic in its own way. Research indicates that underweight individuals with rheumatoid arthritis may experience worse joint damage than obese RA patients, possibly due to its effects on an inflammatory protein called adiponectin.

Rheumatoid arthritis and its treatment can contribute to excessive, undesirable weight loss. For instance, the drug leflunomide can cause digestive upsets that promote diarrhea and weight loss. The arthritis itself may discourage you from exercising, which in turn may cause you to lose muscle mass.

If your symptoms have grown worse even as your weight has dropped, your rheumatologist can help. Possible solutions may include a switch to a different RA medication and dietary modifications. Regular exercise can help you preserve your muscle mass while also reducing joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness.

Sarasota Arthritis Center can advise you on safe, sensible, effective strategies for managing your arthritis symptoms, from weight loss (if necessary) to medication, exercise, and other treatment options. Contact us today to schedule a consultation so we can help you enjoy a healthier, more comfortable life.

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